Time to look at Rahul Dravid as senior India team coach

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Rahul Dravid.

Ravi Shastri’s tenure as India coach is unraveling faster than you can say ‘tracer bullet’. As pompous the former India all-rounder sounds in his press conferences, the deficiencies in his methods become evident on the field.

India have promised a lot but have failed to deliver spectacularly this year. A 2-1 series defeat in South Africa was chastening but there was hope of victory against a diffident England side as the No1 Test team has a top-class bowling attack and an in-form batsman in Virat Kohli capable of scoring most of the runs on his own.

But after four Test matches in the Pataudi Trophy, India have fallen behind 3-1 with the prospect of finishing 4-1 at The Oval. What has hurt most Indian fans is the manner in which India squandered winnable positions in Birmingham, Southampton and The Oval. Not only that, the team made some major selection blunders like picking an extra spinner on a greentop at Lord’s and selecting an injured Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test on a spinning pitch.

What’s worse, the team played just one tour game before the start of the series and even took days off to roam around Europe. All this points to a coaching staff not doing the job it is supposed to.

Shatstri’s predecessor Anil Kumble was a hard task master and put into place a sound structure that ensured higher fitness standards, consistency in selection and a general respect of cricketing procedures. However, Kumble was seen as too strict by some players and was thus asked to leave.

Kohli and Shastri.

Kohli and Shastri.

His relation with captain Kohli deteriorated beyond repair and the Indian board had no choice but to seek a replacement. However, while Shastri has a great rapport with the Kohli, the team as a whole has fallen well below desired standards even as Kohli the player continues to reach new heights.

What is good for Kohli is proving to be bad for the team and it is high time the BCCI ends the Kohli-Shastri partnership and brings in a senior figure who knows what it takes to succeed at the highest level, has good coaching experience and commands respect of the players. As of now, the person best suited for the job is former India captain Rahul Dravid.

Dravid volunteered to work with ‘A’ team and U-19 team as he felt more comfortable preparing youngsters for the next level as in international cricket there isn’t much a coach can do. However with Shastri, the basics have gone out of the window and India need a sensible head to stop Kohli from making more blunders.

The India captain still maintains tour games are not that important as the teams provided are not of the highest quality. India didn’t play a tour game in South Africa and had just one in England. But Kohli still refuses to accept it was a mistake. India played a clearly unfit Ashwin in the decider but the team insisted before the fourth match that the spinner has recovered. Someone like Dravid, if given the free hand, will never allow the situation to reach such a stage.

Dravid has worked wonders with the U-19 team, leading them to the World Cup triumph earlier in the year, while almost every cricketer in the ‘A’ team swears by the input they have received from the batting legend in improving their game. Kohli needs someone of the stature of Dravid to stop him from making bad calls because he has already made some howlers and is yet to accept those mistakes.

The issue here, mainly, will be if Dravid wants the role especially after seeing how a great like Kumble was forced out of the team. However, with the team needing a strong guiding hand to rein in the tempestuous Kohli, Dravid is just the man the team needs. Whether they get him is another matter.

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England's lower-order resilience has exposed India's poor finishing skills

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Jos Buttler (r) and Stuart Broad put England in control at The Oval.

It happens once, you can call it a fluke. It happens twice, it’s worrisome. It happens three times, it’s danger time.

In three Tests out of five in the Pataudi Trophy, England‘s lower-order batsmen have pulled the hosts out of trouble and put them in control. Credit goes to the likes of Jos Buttler, Sam Curran and co for sticking to the basics and fighting it out in difficult conditions. Both teams have failed to score 400 so far this series, which shows ball has dominated bat. With runs so hard to come by against some quality bowlers, the efforts of England’s lower order are worth twice or maybe three times more in flatter conditions.

England were staring down the barrel at 181-7 at The Oval and in danger of being bowled out under 200. But as has happened throughout the series, India let things drift and the hosts wasted no time in cashing in. In the fifth Test, Buttler’s brilliant 89 helped take the team from 181-7 to 332. He received fine support from Stuart Broad (38) and Adil Rashid (15).

In the fourth Test at Southampton, England rallied from 86-6 in the first innings to post a match-winning total of 246 thanks to a gutsy 78 from Curran. In the second innings, they recovered from 122-5 to post 271 with Buttler (69) and Curran (46) the stars again. England won by 60 runs and with it the series.

In the first Test, England rose from 87-7 in the second innings to reach 180, thanks once again to the pugnacious Curran (63) as England won by 31 runs. Even in the second Test at Lord’s, the hosts were 131-5 in reply to India’s 107 on a greentop before a fine unbeaten ton by all-rounder Chris Woakes took them close to 400 and set up an innings win.

As much as England have been brilliant after being five down, India have been equally poor letting them off the hook. After the first Test, India should have had specific plans to counter the lower order and tail of England as in a low scoring match they had accumulated too many runs, especially given the nature of the Birmingham pitch.

But be it spin or seam, no Indian bowler has managed to stick to the basics while dealing with England’s lower half. Getting the lower order out consistently is an art and the most effective way always has been and always will be to bowl full and straight. There is a reason why those batsmen come in after five down – they are not specialist batsmen. You keep attacking the stumps and pads and sooner rather than later, they will miss and especially when there is so much help on offer as has been the case this series.

While India’s lower order (number 6-11) scored just 420 runs in the series, England’s amassed 1,068. For all the quality of the India attack, and it is admittedly very good, they still don’t know how to finish things off after taking the first five wickets. It has gone beyond just being frustrating; India’s poor finishing skills have hurt them this series and will only get worse on flatter wickets. They haven’t learnt their lessons in five Tests in England. It’s up to the team management and bowlers to be honest about their shortcomings because everyone knows where India lost the series.

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Three quick fixes to turn things around for India Test team

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The Indian team has lost the Pataudi Trophy in England despite many expecting them to win against and England side with more than a few problems of their own. Virat Kohli‘s team India were extremely competitive during the Test series in South Africa earlier in the year and it was hoped the lessons learnt from there would help world No1 India show they can win series outside Asia as well.

But after four Tests in England, India have fallen 3-1 behind with the final Test going on at The Oval.

There were many reasons for the series defeat. India lost the first Test in Birmingham (31 runs) and fourth in Southampton (60) by fairly close margins after competing with the hosts on equal terms. However at critical moments, their batsmen and bowlers slipped to hand the hosts the advantage and Joe Root’s men didn’t waste the opportunity.

Moving forward, the Indian cricket hierarchy needs to make some alterations to their set-up to ensure the team is in the best possible shape to win away from home. They are:

1. GET RID OF SHASTRI

Kohli and Shastri.

Kohli and Shastri.

India coach Ravi Shastri has proven to be inadequate in getting the team battle ready for the really difficult challenges. His press conferences are all about big words but when it comes to actual decision making, it is clear that he doesn’t have much of a say. The decision to play just one truncated warm-up match before the Test series, have five days off before the first Test, picking an extra spinner in the second Test on a greentop at Lord’s and picking an injured Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test are just some of the decisions that reflect poorly on Shatri’s decision making abilities.

Any coach with authority would have tapped captain Kohli on the shoulder and asked him to reconsider some of the decisions. The only way India can ensure such blunders aren’t committed again is to have someone like former coach Anil Kumble at the helm who can crack the whip when necessary and ensure the team comes first, even if at the cost of rubbing some egos the wrong way.

2. HAVE AT LEAST TWO WARM-UP GAMES

It is incredible India didn’t play more red-ball cricket before the Test series in England. The Indians thought having high-intensity training is better than warm-up matches against weaker opposition. That didn’t work in South Africa – where they didn’t play any warm-up matches – and didn’t work in England. And it certainly won’t work in the future.

If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail. Test cricket still needs players to go though a process, even though the game is played at a greater pace nowadays. The Indian board must put the players through the wringer of warm-up matches because their demands have resulted in series defeats when victory was very much a possibility.

3. DON’T PICK UNFIT PLAYERS

Ravi Ashwin.

Ravi Ashwin.

India selected an unfit Bhuvneshwar Kumar for the third ODI against England and it made for embarrassing viewing as he barely bowled at 80mph with the hosts wrapping up a series win.

Then in the Test series, India fielded an unfit Ravi Ashwin in the fourth Test on a Southampton surface that had a lot of help for spinners and where Ravindra Jadeja would have been the better option. However, it was Moeen Ali who outbowled Ashwin and India lost the series. The Indian board needs to ask the team management the reasoning behind picking unfit bowlers for such important matches. And also, ensure there is another decision making authority with the team who can step in and make a sensible call.

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